Will Common Sense Prevail?

A July look at the industry including the road to recovering from COVID, changed legislation, new trends, new breweries, and speed bumps in the road slowing progress.

As we begin to feel a return to more familiar surroundings, breweries and other Free State craft alcohol producers are working diligently to overcome the summer drought and pick up a head of COVID recovery steam. The good news is they have a few things operating in their favor this year.

This past legislative session we witnessed the application of common sense to craft alcohol laws with regard to continuing the (state of emergency) protocols put in place that allowed these manufacturers to survive COVID. This included an increase from 3,000 bbls to up to 5,000 bbls of beer to be distributed by a class 5 or class 7 brewery holding the proper (class 7) wholesale permit. It also continues the sale and delivery of products by the manufacturers of craft alcohol in Maryland directly to consumers, as well as direct shipping. Additionally, it lifts limits on maximum purchases from distilleries along with the nonsensical guided tour requirement. Apparently however, there was concern by legislators that the entire year of COVID lockdown was not nearly enough of a testing period to fully prove the validity of this “experiment” and they placed a sundown on this legislation, making all of this common sense legislation disappear after December 31, 2022- giving alcohol manufacturers and their guilds roughly 18 months to prove their case.

For many, the use of available outside space was pivotal to survival during COVID and now has become a perpetual addition to their breweries, wineries and distilleries. Some in more urban and industrial areas worked out the conversion of parking areas into semi-permanent seating and entertainment areas for the summer months. Regardless of space, everyone celebrated the re-opening of the indoor facilities they worked so hard to design.

Checkerspot Brewing Company crowler

The workarounds of 2020 have given way to new trends like crowlers instead of growlers – a much more convenient process and one I am personally happy to partake in. How many growlers can one person own after all? With the realization that once they were no longer in use, those empty growlers required a lot of storage space I didn’t have- there was no turning back.

Another trend that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon is seltzer. Yes seltzer… the ubiquitous drink that comes in a plethora of fruity, low alcohol flavors. The scorching summer heat has certainly fed their popularity. As the trend continued, even the most adamant breweries chose to provide at least one seltzer option for the converted (or overheated).

Craft non-alcoholic IPA’s have also become something of a trend- at least a mini trend. Most recently, Flying Dog released Deepfake a non-alcoholic IPA with Simcoe, Mosaic and Citra hops to much fanfare. It is a great option for those that love beer but don’t always want the alcohol. This is one trend that is bound to increase in popularity over the next few years.

Deepfake by Flying Dog

One thing that most of us are very pleased to see is the return of celebrations- whether it be acknowledging a hard fought milestone for a manufacturer – like a third or tenth anniversary, or the return at least in some form to the festivals. One such example is rapidly approaching. The Brewers Association of Maryland has partnered with Pink Boots of Greater Maryland and Max’s Taphouse for the first annual Maryland Craft Beer Brewers Olympics.  The event is being held at the B&O Railroad Museum August 15th from 12:00-4:00.  This is a fundraising event for BAM with proceeds being allocated towards the funding and development of Human Resources personnel, education and advancement for a more inclusive industry.

This is great timing as the Maryland craft alcohol scene is continuing to expand from in-planning to grand openings. Pariah Brewing is opening their East Coast brewery in the old Union Craft Brewing space this fall. Reduce, reuse recycle? Sort of. Owners Christa and Brian Mitchell have outgrown their San Diego brewery and decided to get back to their roots by opening a second brewery on Union Avenue in Baltimore- a spot ready made for the 20 bbl brewhouse.

Guilford Hall Brewery recently opened in the old Crown Cork and Seal plant. The brewery boasts seating for 200, with a bar restaurant on the upper level. Martin Coad is the brewmaster concentrating on producing well-crafted German brews including pilseners and lagers, among other Bavarian and Viennese selections.

If either of these things seem a little bit familiar…you are not alone in thinking history is repeating itself. Perhaps DeGroens (Baltimore Brewing Company) and Flying Dog (when they were in Colorado and Maryland) come to mind?

All however, is not sunshine and hops. Some breweries that had big plans have had to put things on hold, in some cases indefinitely. Brad and Eryn Streett were slated to open AleCraft Farm Brewery in Harford County until Councilman Robert Wagner introduced a moratorium on farm breweries in the county days before their zoning hearing. On the surface it appears to be another case of NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome that plagues many value-added agriculture businesses, threatening their very existence. Hopefully common sense and diplomatic dialogue will prevail and AleCraft will move forward.  

There is lots more to share from pincasts to collaborations that you will not want to miss. Stay tuned and stay hydrated!

Beer for thought